Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday in the dispute over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, saying that the Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.
The position presents serious legal and political obstacles for congressional Democrats, who have begun laying the groundwork for contempt proceedings against current and former White House officials in order to pry loose information about the dismissals.
"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen." [emphasis added]Legal criticism:
Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University who has written a book on executive-privilege issues, called the administration's stance "astonishing."
"That's a breathtakingly broad view of the president's role in this system of separation of powers," Rozell said. "What this statement is saying is the president's claim of executive privilege trumps all."
David B. Rifkin, who worked in the Justice Department and White House counsel's office under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, praised the position and said it is consistent with the idea of a "unitary executive." In practical terms, he said, "U.S. attorneys are emanations of a president's will." And in constitutional terms, he said, "the president has decided, by virtue of invoking executive privilege, that is the correct policy for the entire executive branch."The Imperial Presidency. So no matter if it's right or wrong, if dubya sez so, it's "the correct policy" for the US Attorneys. As another legal critic said in the piece, because the White House controls the enforcement process, it's just going to thumb its nose at Congress. All legal precedents aside. They don't matter because dubya sez so.
Remember a few years ago when the Republicans in Congress had their collective panties in a twist because "no one is above the law"?
Is there any more evidence needed for how toxic this administration has become? Whether its lying the nation into war, or stonewalling Congressional oversight, or simplly disrespecting the Constitution, this administration has done so much damage it's difficult to imagine how long it will take to fix.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said the administration is "hastening a constitutional crisis," and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said the position "makes a mockery of the ideal that no one is above the law."
Waxman added: "I suppose the next step would be just disbanding the Justice Department."